OTTAWA — For non-profit agencies that operate thrift stores and similar businesses, there is one constant: When the economy is slumping, their sales skyrocket.
In what is widely seen as a national economy crippled by the COVID-19 pandemic, business currently is booming at local thrift stores as residents are eager to get out of their homes in search of a bargain, according to the manager of one such non-profit agency.
Angie Patterson, manager of Putnam County Goodwill store in Ottawa, said that in her two years at the agency, she’s not seen anything that even closely resembles the volume of traffic seen inside the thrift store after a nearly two-month shutdown because of the novel coronavirus.
“It’s amazing,” Patterson said Wednesday. “Our numbers have doubled in terms of sales since we reopened May 12. I’ve never seen anything like this. People want to get out and spend some money.”
Donations are also up at the store, Patterson said. “You can tell people have been cleaning out their homes during the shutdown.”
Donated items brought to the store are taken into a large room where they are “sprayed real good” with disinfectant before employees go through individual bags in preparation of stocking the store’s shelves. “Then the items all get cleaned again,” Patterson said.
The Putnam County store is open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Saturday. On Wednesdays, at-risk customers are admitted one hour early to browse and buy.
All money raised goes to support Goodwill Industries, which provides job training for people with disabilities.
Donations through the roof
“When the economy is strong, donations are up and sales are down,” said Betty Rohdes, office manager and human resources director for the Wapakoneta-based Mercy Unlimited. “When it’s a slow economy, sales are up, but there are fewer donations because people are not replacing stuff as frequently.”
Inexplicably, both donations and sales are running high at the Wapakoneta site these days.
Rohdes on Wednesday said sales at the agency’s thrift store are up 22% from pre-COVID-19 levels following a seven-week shutdown due to the virus. Donations, she said, have also been so plentiful that the store twice in the past few weeks was forced to temporarily suspend donation drop-offs due to a shortage of storage space.
“People were stuck at home and were apparently doing some massive spring cleaning,” Rohdes said jokingly.
Donations are currently being accepted again, but all items brought to the store undergo a quarantine period before being placed on the shelves. All employees wear facial coverings, and high-touch areas are cleaned frequently, Rohdes said.
The charity is a multi-faceted humanitarian agency that operates the thrift store as a fundraiser for services provided by Matthew 25: Ministries. Money raised helps support community programs to support residents in need.
Steve Niswonger, director of marketing at the Lima Goodwill thrift store, said spring is typically the busiest time of year for donations.
“After being closed for a couple of months we’re getting a lot of donations now, and we appreciate it,” he said.
Donors can drive to the store on Allentown Road, pop the trunk of their vehicle “and an attendant will get the donated items out for you,” Niswonger said. “The other option is to place the donated items in receptacles outside the store.”
Salvation Army waits
The Salvation Store in Lima is unable to accept physical donations and is accepting only monetary gifts at the present time, according to a spokesman at the local facility.
That decision was made at the agency’s national office, and it’s left Paul Downing, operations coordinator for the Lima office, feeling “kind of stuck.”
Downing said the agency does not operate a thrift store in Lima but instead holds a monthly garage sale at its East Market Street site. Donations of clothing and furniture are sold at the monthly events, and some items are given away free of charge to the most needy members of the community.
“But right now the national office says I can’t hold a garage sale, and I can’t take donations except monetary ones,” Downing said. “We’ve had to turn a lot of people away. This is hurting us because we’re losing money that we could get from the monthly garage sale, and in turn it’s hurting members of the community who rely on us.”